Benjamin Logan third grader Cannon Wood recently had the opportunity to portray real-life piano prodigy Derek Paravicini in a short movie, which they shot in Los Angeles in November. Here Cannon stands in front of other people involved in the filming of Key of Genius, from left: Daniel Persitz, director and producer; Lauren Samuels, who plays Derek’s mother; and Gavin Stenhouse, who took the role of Derek’s piano teacher, Adam Ockelford. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Don’t let Cannon Wood’s nonchalant attitude fool you. The boy with the courageous spirit who already has his own podcast wants to be famous. And it just might happen.
Cannon’s latest adventure began in early October, when casting director Danielle Demchick, from New York, contacted Cannon’s mom, Mandi, with a request. She wanted Cannon, a third-grader at Benjamin Logan Elementary School, to audition for a small but vital role in a short film.
“In the beginning we were very apprehensive,” admitted Cannon’s father, Adam, a detective for the Logan County Sheriff’s Office. “We thought it was a scam, but were able to vet the people involved and see it was legit.”
Legit indeed. The movie, titled Key of Genius, tells the true story of Derek Paravicini and the piano teacher determined to unlock his musical brilliance, Adam Ockelford.
Born blind and autistic, Derek showed he had perfect pitch and an obsession with the piano by the time he was five years old. But he needed a teacher. Enter Ockelford.
Now, writer and director Daniel Persitz wants to tell their story. And he and his team cast Cannon in the key role of Derek as a boy discovering music.
Cannon was born with Norrie disease, a rare genetic disorder that mostly affects the eye. Though he had mobility vision when he was young, which was enough to see shadows and get around, he lost all of his sight in October 2020.
Then, a few months ago, Cannon’s mom, Mandi, entered him in a photo contest to be on the cover of a new catalog for The Fun Company in Bellefontaine. Cannon won the most votes and the cover was his.
Mandi proudly posted about the honor in a Facebook group for parents of blind children. And that’s where Demchick, who advocates for finding actors with disabilities, came across Cannon.
“We sent three videos for his audition,” Mandi, a business teacher at Benjamin Logan High School (BLHS), said. “In one he described his favorite toy. In another they wanted him to scream like he was having a meltdown, and in the third he had to act happy and excited.”
The film team liked what they saw and offered Cannon the part.
Since Derek was nonverbal when he was Cannon’s age, the role didn’t include any lines. But Cannon did have to learn how to play the piano. Specifically, the C chord and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” He spent three weeks taking private lessons through Zoom with Ockelford himself, who lives in England. Myles Bowers, band director at BLHS, also provided some instruction.
Nov. 17, Mandi and Cannon flew to Los Angeles, Calif., for five days of filming. Though a “cool experience” Mandi suspects her son will never forget, she also described Hollywood as “an emotional rollercoaster.”
Nevertheless, Persitz “kept telling Cannon he couldn’t believe he’d never acted before because he did so well,” Mandi added.
Though this movie will only be eight to 10 minutes long, the producers plan to take it to film festivals to generate interest and find investors. The hope would be to turn Key of Genius into a full-length feature. This is a common strategy in Hollywood. A successful Kickstarter campaign last summer provided the funding for the initial short project.
It’s possible Cannon, who turns nine on Dec. 18, could participate in the potential feature, depending on his age and look at the time of production. But he’d need to audition again.
“Overall, we’re thankful for the experience,” Adam concluded. “He’s impressed us, and it’s only the beginning of what he’ll get to do.”
Cannon Wood performs at a piano during the filming of Key of Genius in Los Angeles last month. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)